Category Archives: Lord’s Supper / Table

A Vision for Worship in the Local Church

John Jefferson Davis is professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In his new book, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (IVP Academic, 2010), Davis shares his vision for the local church that is built around a simple mission: (1) worship God well, (2) love one another, and (3) engage in mission. His book focuses on (1), but (1) is set in the context of (2) and (3). According to Davis, the faithful church is:

  • Committed to doctrinal orthodoxy and biblical authority.
  • Reformed in its soteriology.
  • Trinitarian in its theology.
  • Charismatic in its practice, affirming the gifts and anticipating the active presence of the Spirit in worship.
  • Counter-cultural in its posture, on one hand confronting scientific materialism (modernism), on the other hand confronting digital virtualism (postmodernism). The church is not a place that we control (contra modernism) and it is not a place to be entertained (contra postmodernism).
  • Missional in its vision, acting locally and “partnering with its brothers and sisters in the faith in the global church” which will also serve to protect the church from “identifying itself too closely with America and its global economic and military hegemony” (32).
  • Neo-monastical in its stress on sexual purity over licentiousness, humble obedience and submission over autonomy, and a life of simplicity in light of consumer-driven materialism.
  • It places God-centered doxology as its highest priority. “The fundamental issue is the recovery of the centrality and reality of God in the worship and life of the evangelical church generally: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead; Jesus is still alive today, and is present here with us in the power of the Spirit to enjoy communion with his people” (12).
  • It stresses the real presence of Christ when the church gathers and frequently celebrates the Lord’s Supper; “a more meaningful and frequent experience of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the evangelical church involves the rediscovery of a central reality in the worship of the New Testament and the early church: the real personal presence of the risen Christ who meets his people in joyful fellowship around the table” (114).
  • It focuses weekly on the main things. “One basic reason why frequent Communion, rightly administered, can be a powerful means of spiritual formation is that it focuses the church’s attention on the core realities of the Christian faith: the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection and the return of Jesus Christ. No Christian doctrines are more fundamental than these for the Christian faith. Week by week the church is reminded in the Eucharist that ‘Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again’” (166).

Davis cannot focus on all these features and he doesn’t try. The book centers on the final three bullets.

Rarely will you find a more pointed critique of the modern church communicated within such a compelling, full-scale vision for correction. And Davis’s understanding of technology, and the influence of technology on the church, is impressive (note the Google homepage analogy to the real presence on page 162).

Worship and the Reality of God was a rare book that I found hard to put down. Here’s what Douglas Groothuis wrote:

Professor Davis recaptures what has been lost in most contemporary worship: a theologically rich understanding of the presence of God in our midst during congregational worship and of how we should rightly respond to this incomparable Reality. This is a book to reawaken the heart and mind to true worship, and as such, it is desperately needed.

Church Props

Kevin DeYoung’s latest book The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Moody, 2010) is good—real good. Kevin triggers the megaphone and provides us with a nice guided tour through the scenic Heidelberg Catechism. In the following quote Kevin speaks about the God’s appointed visual aids in the church and especially the importance of the Lord’s Supper. This is from page 138:

Too many churches overlook God’s preferred visual aids—the sacraments—and jump right to video, drama, and props to get people’s attention. We are making a big mistake when we think these “signs and seals” will be anywhere as effective as the ones instituted by Christ Himself. Pastors who don’t explain the sacraments and very rarely administer them are robbing their people of tremendous encouragement in their Christian walk. We can hear the gospel every Sunday, and eat it too.

Of course, this eating and drinking must be undertaken in faith. The elements themselves do not save us. But when we eat and drink them in faith, we can be assured that we receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. More than that, we get a picture of our union with Christ. As we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we literally have communion with Him, not by dragging Christ down from heaven but by experiencing His presence through His Spirit. Shame on parishioners for coming to the Lord’s Supper with nothing but drudgery and low expectations. And shame on pastors for not instructing their people in the gospel joy available to us in Communion.

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